Fair Housing complaint filed with HUD. Hartford County has stopped issuing building permits, and buyers cannot move in, pending outcome of lawsuit.
By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
The latest controversy circulating on social media is a Fair Housing complaint involving River Run, a 55+ retirement community in Maryland.
It all started when a real estate agent filed a complaint with Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Gina Pimentel says that the developers of River Run are marketing and selling homes exclusively to members of a Muslim religious sect, excluding other potential buyers.
When Hartford County learned of the HUD complaint, and conducted its own investigation into the matter, its Council decided not to issue any more building permits until the legal matter is settled.
On the other hand, Faheem Younus, developer of River Run, has sued Hartford County for its refusal to issue permits, claiming that the County’s actions are discriminatory against Muslims.
Which viewpoint is right under U.S. law?
Below are two recent reports on the controversy.
Maryland Retirement Community Sold Homes Only To Muslims
7:18 PM 10/24/2017
A housing development in Maryland is mired in contradicting legal grievances from city officials and residents after it marketed and sold homes only to Muslims.
A developer for River Run, a housing development along the Gunpowder river in Joppatowne, Md., filed a lawsuit against Hartford county officials in September, alleging that its refusal to continue issuing building permits for the project was discriminatory against Muslims. However, defendants allege that the developers conspired to create an exclusively Islamic community by selling only to Muslims, according to the Washington Post.
See also, from Washington Post
The River Run development is slated for about 35 wooded acres in Joppatowne, Md., a community of about 12,000 people 20 miles northeast of Baltimore. More than 56 homes were approved for the lot more than a decade ago, but the project fell into disrepair after just four homes were built when a previous developer folded.
Then, last year, 46-year-old Faheem Younus, an infectious-disease doctor and an immigrant from Pakistan, teamed up with a different developer to build a retirement community for older Ahmadiyya Muslims, adherents of a branch of Islam who preach tolerance and face repression from other Muslims around the world.
After a nationwide search, Younus settled on River Run. With a planned mosque and views of the river, the development offered what was advertised as a “peace village” for people 55 and older.
“This will be a community of 49 spacious brand new homes (Villas) for Ahmadi Muslims with a dedicated mosque within walking distance,” read a website this year advertising the community. That language was later removed, replaced with an update that touted an “audio feed from the adjacent mosque” for the daily call to prayer — before that language also was removed.
The plan to market to Muslims proved successful, Younus said, and 22 units were sold within months after a lottery was held among Ahmadis who wished to buy them.
Some elected officials and residents, however, complained, saying the planned community violated fair-housing laws.
It would appear that Younus did advertise River Run as an exclusive community, and then sold nearly half of the housing units shortly thereafter. However, now the River Run developer claims that anyone is welcome to purchase a home in the community, including non-Muslims.
Yousun points out, in his defense, that the U.S. has plenty of Christian and Jewish communities, so why not an Islamic community?
Is it true that there are Christian and Jewish communities?
Yes, it is. For example, just a few miles from my house there is a senior community called Lutheran Village, operated by Diakon Senior Living Services. Here’s a little excerpt from Diakon’s website:
Diakon’s senior living roots date back to 1940. Annually, Diakon serves thousands of people of all faiths, providing compassionate service, gracious hospitality and millions of dollars in charitable care.
As you can see, although Diakon has a Christian mission, the community is open to and serves people of any faith.
Searching online for Jewish communities, I found Monroe Village, another senior community in Central NJ, a division of Springpoint Senior Living. According to its website, Monroe Village is a diverse community originally founded by Presbyterian ministers.
Our mission began in 1916, when a group of Presbyterian ministers joined together to create housing and services for elders. They founded Presbyterian Homes of New Jersey, a nonprofit organization based on the values instilled by faith.
Their idea grew with the 20th century, expanding to new affordable housing and senior living communities across the state. In 2007, the organization decided to go beyond its Presbyterian affiliation, taking a new name that would embrace people of all backgrounds: PHS Senior Living. Three years later, in February 2010, the company made a more definitive move, changing its name once again, this time to Springpoint Senior Living.
The key here is that, even though many senior communities, especially non-profit groups, have been founded in the faith and traditions of one particular religious group, they technically welcome people of all faiths, so long as they are able and willing to pay for the lifestyle and future assisted living or health care services in the future.
It appears that many of these communities do not actually sell real property, but rather, operate as cooperatives providing a combination of community and personal services, as well as a place to live.
Nevertheless, HUD policy forbids housing discrimination on the basis of protected classes, among them, religious affiliation. That puts River Run in a gray zone, with regard to the Fair Housing Act.
The outcome of this legal case will have important implications for the rights of housing consumers as well as developers.
The Big Picture
But looking at the big picture, don’t deed restrictions, the basis for most association-governed common interest communities, also discriminate, albeit in less obvious ways?
For example, we often read about HOA, condo, and co-op association restrictions on holiday decor, display of religious symbols (even in private front yards), display of political signs, and so on. There are rules against parking certain types of vehicles – especially work vehicles commonly used by working class residents. And what about the restrictions against playing in the street, or leaving toys outside in plain view – do these not discriminate against families with children?
These are equally gray areas in terms of Constitutional law, meant to uphold Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in the U.S.
Also worth considering: is there anything wrong with people choosing to live among neighbors who share important core values?
For centuries, ethnic and religious cultures have tended to set up their own neighborhoods. Think of all the Little Italy, Chinatown, and Jewish enclaves in just about every major city in the U.S.
The point is, no matter how policymakers try to create diversity in communities, human nature draws people of similar cultures and values together.
And even if River Run is officially open to people of all faiths, it would not be surprising if nearly every future buyer turns out to be a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect.